BMK survives Conquest to claim NAFA 23-Under World Series championship

Written by Bob on August 22nd, 2017

2017 NAFA 23-Under World Series Champions, Bowen Fastpitch-Minnesota Computers-Kegel of Fargo include coaches Rocco Ramsey and Richard Quigley, and players Julian Fernandez, Facundo Gonzales, Conrado Zanuttini, Alejo Munoz, Eneas Erbes, Adam Hosey, Joe Reinert, Michael Skola, Josh Michaels and Nate Loft. Photo By BOB OTTO / 2017 NAFA World Series, Fargo N.D.

FARGO – NAFA World Series championships are rarely won the easy way. Bowen-Minnesota Computers-Kegel of Fargo (BMK) and the Conquest Coyotes of Saskatchewan, Canada are a fitting example.

The two squads slugged it out like two heavyweight fighters for nine innings before BMK escaped with a 6-4 victory to claim the 23-Under championship at Northside Softball Complex, Sunday.

“You couldn’t ask for a better championship game,” said BMK manager Rocco Ramsey. “That was really a good team we beat and to go extra innings is the way a championship game should be.”

NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA’S BEST

The game was in sorts a three-way “border battle” featuring a homegrown Canadian squad up against an international blend of Argentinians and Americans on the BMK side.

Ramsey and Richard Quigley combined squads; Ramsey providing the Argentina players from his Bowen, Illinois team, and Quigley furnishing the Americans from Minnesota Computers and Kegel of Fargo.

One of the premiere players Ramsey brought along was 19-year-old pitcher Julian Fernandez, who a week earlier had won five games in leading Bowen Fastpitch to the NAFA A-Major championship.

Bowen Fastpitch-Minnesota Computers-Kegel of Fargo pitcher, JULIAN FERNANDEZ, pitched a complete nine innings, striking out 12 in holding off the talented Conquest, Saskatchewan Coyotes, 6-4, in the 2017 NAFA 23-Under World Series, Sunday, Aug. 201, 2017. Photo By BOB OTTO

WORLD SERIES TOP HURLER

So, when the young Argentina hurler stepped into the circle with his 72 to 75 mph heat, sharp-breaking riser and drop, along with a devastating change-up that most pitchers can only dream of owning, BMK was considered the favorite.

But the Coyotes didn’t come to their first NAFA World Series awestruck. They didn’t care who was snapping the ball to the plate.

And besides, the Coyotes were countering with a pretty fair pitcher in Clayton McKenzie. He had yet to give up an earned run and sported a 2-0 record. The game featured some pretty fair batsmen as well.

Conquest Coyotes pitcher Clayton McKenzie went nine complete innings holding the Bowen Fastpitch-Minnesota Computers-Kegel of Fargo in check, but the Coyotes came up just short, losing 6-4 in the NAFA 23-Under World Series championship game, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017. Photo By BOB OTTO

The two squads combined for 23 hits – 13 on the Coyotes side, 10 for BMK.

So, with talented young hurlers and hitters, the contest turned into a thrilling back and forth battle before ending in dramatic fashion.

CHACO AND RYLEY DELIVER

BMK jumped out 1-0 in the first on Alejo “Chaco” Munoz’ RBI triple, but Ryley Hawkeswood pulled the Coyotes even by hitting a scorching line drive down the third base line, sending home Alex Strautman (3-for-4) who hit a three-bagger deep into left field.

The game stayed tied until the fifth, with McKenzie and the Coyotes’ defense holding BMK at bay.

But Eneas Erbes, an Argentina junior national team player, broke the scoreless string by walloping a solo shot over the left-centerfield fence. Two outs later, Michael Skola had a base hit and Josh Michaels drove him home with a triple to push BMK ahead, 3-1.

NO LEAD SAFE

In the sixth, Facundo Gonzales singled and Conrado Zanuttini doubled him home, pushing BMK’s advantage to 4-1.

But back bounced the Coyotes with a run in the bottom half on Jordan Rock’s double, steal, and a wild pickoff throw that sent him racing home safely.

McKenzie shutdown BMK in the seventh on a pair of ground balls and a popup to send the Coyotes into the bottom half with a chance for a walk-off championship.

And the Coyotes came close to pulling it off.

Conquest Coyotes LAYK PAWLUK gets a good swing on a pitch during the NAFA 23-Under World Series championship. Photo By BOB OTTO / 2017 NAFA World Series / Fargo, N.D.

Layk Pawluk led off with single, but Fernandez retired the next two batters and appeared on his way to nailing down the win.

TOUGH OUTS

But in rapid-fire succession, Strautman, Hawkeswood and McKenzie drilled three straight hits, plating two runs and tying the game. And on third base stood McKenzie as the winning run.

Perhaps recognizing all could be lost, Fernandez holstered his change-up and reached back for some added velocity and got the third out with a blistering riser to send the game into extra innings.

Fernandez has an off speed that Ramsey rates as one of the best change-ups he has ever seen. And Fernandez has no lack of confidence using it in any situation or any count.

Therein, believes Ramsey, was what helped exacerbate Fernandez’ troubles.

OFF SPEED SHELVED

“I think maybe Julian got too comfortable with the lead,” said Ramsey, “and I think he went to the change-up too many times. I had a little talk with him after they tied it up. I said, ‘forget the change-up and throw the ball hard.’”

Fernandez followed his coach’s advice and it seemed to work as he held the Coyotes scoreless in the eighth.

Then in the top of the ninth, Fernandez’ teammates supported him with a pair of runs.

SACKS FULL OF ARGENTINIANS

Zanuttini doubled, Munoz singled and McKenzie intentionally walked Erbes to load the bases. McKenzie got Adam Hosey to hit into a double play, but a run scored, followed by an error that allowed the sixth run to come across.

With a two-run advantage, Fernandez needed just three outs to cap the championship.

But the Coyotes refused to quit.

In the bottom of the ninth, Mathew Kutnikoff, Strautman and McKenzie strung together three straight hits to load the bases with two outs.

McKenzie is a big, powerful hitter. He drove a Fernandez rise ball back at him, a bullet that ricocheted off his leg.

FERNANDEZ SHAKES OFF PAIN

The Coyotes were in excellent position to pull off the walk-off win with the tying run on third, the game-winner on second, and out in the circle an injured Fernandez looking as if he might be done.

Time was called, while Fernandez grimaced and limped around the circle trying to shake off the pain. Ramsey made a visit, talked with his young pitcher, and Fernandez grabbed the ball, threw three practice pitches and signaled he could go.

Seemingly energized and maybe a bit steamed about the roughshod treatment these Coyotes were administering, Fernandez came with the heat, firing nothing but rise balls to end the game with a strikeout.

Though his team came ever so close to taking the title, Coyotes manager Lindsay Kokesch showed no surprise that the Coyotes could hang with BMK’s international lineup.

2017 NAFA 23-Under World Series second place Coyotes of Conquest, Saskatchewan, Canada. Roster includes coach Lindsay Kokesch, Quintin Kokesch, Ryder Friesen, Layk Rawluk, Dillon Silverthorn, Kynan Tarnowski, Alex Strautman, Ryley Hawkeswood, Clayton McKenzie, Mathew Kutnikoff, Jordan Rock, Ryan Larocque, Peter Kuxhaus. Photo By BOB OTTO / 2017 NAFA World Series, Fargo, N.D.

“They’re a tough crew to put down,” said Kokesch about the Coyotes. “They have a no quit attitude.”

The Coyotes proved their toughness in the semifinals.

Down by three runs in the seventh, the they rallied to beat the Redmen of Peguis, Manitoba, Canada, 8-7, to move into the championship. Kutnikoff, Rock and Ryan Friesen each drove in a run, and McKenzie got the win in relief.

FARGO BOUND

Kokesch said the Coyotes, mostly from Conquest (pop. 152) and Dalmeny (pop. 1,853) in Saskatchewan, compete in a men’s league and some of the players – including McKenzie – played in the summer games in Winnipeg for Team Saskatchewan, finishing second and taking the Silver Medal.

“We came to Fargo because there were no provincials or nationals because of the summer games,” said Kokesch. “It’s our first trip to NAFA. The tournament is well put together and it was a good experience to play in another country.”

After the last out was made a tired Fernandez was all smiles. He had good reason to feel a bit wore out. Over the span of the World Series, he compiled a 9-2 mark in helping Bowen Fastpitch win three championships – the A-Major and the two 23-Under tournaments (played separate weeks), while also compiling a 2-2 record in the AA division.

Fernandez is returning to Argentina where he will keep right on playing when the season starts Sept. 1. He said he’s enjoyed his first season pitching in the United States and plans on returning next year with the Bowen ball club.

“I enjoy playing for Bowen,” he said. “I try to get better and want to pitch high (Open level).”

The 2017 NAFA World Series was indeed very successful for Ramsey’s ball clubs. But he says winning the 23-Under is a special feeling.

BMK coach ROCCO RAMSEY watches the action during the 2017 23-Under World Series. Photo By BOB OTTO

“It’s awesome to win three championships,” Ramsey said, “and have a bunch of young kids play like the can play, and going out there and having fun.”

23-UNDER PLAYER STATS

BMK pitching: Julian Fernandez (2-0) allowed four earned runs on 13 hits with 12 strikeouts and no walks.
Conquest Coyotes pitching: Clayton McKenzie (2-1) gave up five earned runs on 10 hits with two walks and six strikeouts.
BMK batting: Conrado Zanuttini, 3-4, RBI; Alejo Munoz, 2-4, RBI; Eneas Erbes, 1-3, RBI, HR; Adam Hosey, 1-4, RBI; Michael Skola, 2-4, and Josh Michaels, 1-3, RBI, 3B.
Coyotes batting: Alex Strautman 3-4, RBI; Ryley Hawkeswood, 3-4, RBI; Clayton McKenzie, 2-4, RBI; Jordan Rock, 1-3; Ryder Friesen, 1-3, Layk Pawluk, 1-4, Quintin Kokesch, 1-4, and Matthew Kutnikoff, 1-4.

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